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iSchool team receives NSF grant to create 'new breed of information professional'

October 09, 2008

Margaret Spillett
(315) 443-1069

Margaret Spillett

A biologist studying the way chemotherapy interacts with a tumor at the cellular level works years to develop the expertise needed to assess those changes. Meanwhile, advances in technology that enable the biologist to store, retrieve, manipulate and analyze the large amounts of data she collects are developing at a rate faster than she can keep up.

Likewise, international researchers working in Switzerland on the world's largest and most advanced particle physics lab, CERN, need to send new data, access their previous research, and collaborate with colleagues back in their home countries. But again, their expertise is not in developing the technical infrastructure to ensure this process happens smoothly.

Who are the experts? Researchers at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University (iSchool) are hoping to define this new group of workers that they're calling cyberinfrastructure facilitators, or CI-facilitators.

Funded by a two-year, $244,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Office of CyberInfrastructure, the iSchool team will investigate "CI-Facilitators: Information Architects across the STEM Disciplines." The team is headed by Associate Dean for Research Jeff Stanton, Dean Elizabeth D. Liddy, professor SU Chief Information Officer Paul Gandel, and professors Derrick L. Cogburn, R. David Lankes and Megan Oakleaf.

"The rapid pace in the development of information infrastructure implies that only individuals who dedicate their professional lives to it can truly keep up," Stanton says. "Our proposal hopes to define the education and training of a new breed of information professionals called CI-facilitators. These individuals will ensure that researchers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines can utilize the large-scale datasets, images, databases and other information collections they need to advance their work."

The team will design an educational program at the graduate and undergraduate levels that will teach a set of focused skills, knowledge and capabilities. This program will include current courses, new courses, internships, technical training and a variety of other learning modules.

These students will graduate knowing how to:

  • assess and identify socio-technical needs;
  • set up technology/collaborative tools and facilitate their use;
  • archive results of work; and
  • act as the catalyst between researcher and technologies needed to facilitate the research process.

The iSchool researchers believe this skill set will shorten the time it takes to achieve a goal. "We see CI-facilitators excelling in the three 'I's'-information, infrastructure and improvisation," Stanton says. "They will have the research skills to discover the needs of information users and will be able to adapt available technology to satisfy those needs."

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